I’ve always wanted to talk about music in this blog. Music has always played a crucial role in my life, and I thought it was due time I payed hommage to those timeless tunes –those ‘old darts’– that have pierced my heart and soul ever since I came to develop some understanding of the world around me. Thus this section starts a recollection of old favourites of mine, a sort of countdown list where I intend to talk a bit about those songs that impressed me the most and contributed significantly –for better or for worse– to what I am today. Each song has its own story….
#100: “ECHOES” (PINK FLOYD)
A stinging noise glittering in the dark. A soft awakening of senses as the slumber drifts off and the sounds become clear —echoing in the distance, getting closer, present and eventually upfront in their deceptive simplicity.
This is a song for nostalgic souls. I would go as far a saying it already was back in 1971, the year Pink Floyd released Meddle, a cornerstone album of sorts since from that year onwards things would never be the same for the group nor for the British avant-garde music scene.
But this is a song —and quite a long one, by today’s standards— as much about space as it is about the earth, or about the sea, or about dreams, or about feelings, or anything you may come up with. There’s enough space for everything, but I think expressions such as “albatross”, “coral caves”, “green and submarine” or “sunlight wings” pretty much sum up the bonds the lyrics share with nature and the spiritual world. This does not mean that the song is about nature or the spiritual world, though. Lyrics and music flow hand in hand as one, from beginning to end, in a sort of non-stop sonic cycle that ends with a whisper instead of a bang. I always think of Finnegans Wake whenever I listen to this song. I do not know why, I just cannot help it. It may be the sense of circularity that perspires throughout the song, or the feeling of having returned to the beginning once it is over, or the dreamy vibes that come off those psychedelic synths… Whatever the reason, there seems to be no plausible link between Pink Floyd and James Joyce, and yet…. Truth be told, the group’s former guitar player and singer, Syd Barrett, did get into Joycean territory when he wrote the music for one of Joyce’s early poems, “Golden Hair” (a song included in The Madcap Laughs, Barrett’s first album, for all of you who may be interested).
Pink Floyd have performed this song countless times over the years, especially in the early 70s, and as expected the song has gone through intense changes. From the dreamy and spacey album version to the pounding stark performance in Pompeii, to the tamed sax-led version the band used to stage at the end of their 1974 shows, right after Dark Side of the Moon, or the re-invigorated Water-less version of the band’s 1987 early shows. David Gilmour also included it in his 2006 set-list, in the On an Island tour. Whatever. Everyone might have his favourite version, but after so many years of listening to it I still cannot make up my mind as to which one I prefer: the album version or the Pompeii one. Both hold a special place in my heart, and for very different reasons. Within the song, my favourite sequence is the funk bass-dominated part (around seven minutes into the song), the one that segues into the ‘gulls’ cries’ sequence. I think this is a defining moment for Waters’ bass guitar playing (one he will become obsessed with at least up until Animals, by the way) and certainly one of the best ‘non solo’ bass lines I have ever listened to. The famous guitar screams seem to have originated out of pure serendipity and/or technical experimentation. Another song from this album, “One of These Days (I’m Going to Cut You into Little Pieces)” also seems to have come out of trifling with the equipment…. But each song has its own story. And, yes, in case you had not noticed the start of Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” song owes a lot to “Echoes”.
I first listened to this song in 1990, if I remember correctly, on a cold and cloudy Saturday evening, in a shopping-centre while I was spending some time with an old friend —who happened to be a staunch fan of the band, just like me. I could not drive, and he did not want to take his father’s car to get to the city, so we took a coach and got off in the city centre, and from there we walked about half an hour or forty minutes to the shopping-centre, which was in the outskirts, up a hill. So we got there, picked up the Meddle CD, took out those funny headphones (a couple of old phone-like independent huge pieces of shiny heavy black plastic), stuck them onto one ear each, pressed the play button and listened. And in came “Echoes” with its pinging noise.
A couple of weeks later my friend bought the album (we still bought mostly vinyl versions, since CDs were a bit expensive back then), and lent it to me so that I could record it on a cassette tape. That was the commonplace practice when it came to enjoying music in the eighties and early nineties. Someone would buy an LP, and his/her friends would make cassette tape copies from it. It was always like that. Recording and sharing music was a way to establish, tighten or sometimes break friendships. We used to talk about music when we went out, and our youthful lives spiralled around music as much as around politics or philosophy. Now that I’m in my mid-forties I have come to realize the huge leap that separates young generations today from the grim pre-technology youth of the close of the century.
Anyway, I am getting pretty gloomy myself…. But that is just the state of mind listening to Pink Floyd music has always left me in. On a side note, when played live this song was occasionally referred to as ‘Return of the Son of Nothing’, and ‘Looking Through the Knothole in Granny’s Wooden Leg.’ Now that’s what I call British humour.